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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Storm Rolling Through Midwest; Chavez Battling "Severe" Infection; Commit to "Zero Tolerance"; Escort: Menendez Prostitution Claims Made Up; "Real Leadership Would Get This Fixed"; NRA Sponsors NASCAR Race; Jodi Arias' Murder Trial

Aired March 5, 2013 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: heavy snow falling, as a winter storm rolls through the Upper Midwest, with Chicago and D.C. right in its path.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Developing this morning: Venezuela's Hugo Chavez takes a turn for the worst in his fight against cancer.

SAMBOLIN: Out of hiding. One time murder suspect Casey Anthony in public for the first time in almost two years.

BERMAN: Guns and race cars. The NRA teaming up with NASCAR in a primetime publicity push.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Tuesday, March 5th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

So, let's get started for you here.

Right now, millions in the Midwest are waking up under several inches of snow, thanks to this powerful winter storm. It's making its way across the country. And it's packed quite the punch. It is dumping snow and ice from North Dakota to Ohio.

And this was a scene in Minneapolis as the late-season storm dumped seven to 10 inches on the twin cities. Severe weather warnings are still in effect for much of the area.

So, now, Chicago bracing for what could be the biggest snowfall of the season, up to 11 inches by tonight, one to two inches an hour at times. So, as a result, Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports can expect some serious delays and maybe even some flight cancellations there.

Jennifer Delgado is live in Chicago for us this morning. And our Karen Maginnis is monitoring the storm from the CNN weather center.

We're going to start with Jennifer, who is in my hometown.

Good morning to you, Jennifer. How is it going there?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, first. Yes, good morning.

It's cold in your hometown. Right now, we're on Michigan Avenue. You can see Chicago River. I'm sure you're getting a little home sick right now and Lake Michigan.

But we don't have any snow out here right now. It's still roughly about 50 miles away, really right to the west of DeKalb.

Now, we're expecting the snow to start to arrive mid-morning, say, around 9:00, 10:00. Still that's going to be rush hour. So, that is going to lead to problems for motorists.

As we walk this way, we kind of show you on the roadways, yes, it's nice and dry. Crews are already laid down a little bit of salt in anticipation of drivers out there.

But it's not just the drivers. As Zoraida said, there have been hundreds of cancellations in anticipation of the storm. Right now, there are no weather delays.

Certainly, conditions are going to go down hill very quickly. We're expecting anywhere from six to eight inches, some areas roughly 10. You see the wind kicking up. It's going to be gusting to 30.

The winds are really going to be firing up later this evening, especially during evening rush. That is going to allow for the snow to blow around. That's going to limit visibility. When you combined that with the wind, of course, that's going to hamper travel as well.

So, right now, it's 4:00. We're the only ones that are up here and I guess a couple cab drivers and maybe a couple of coffee shops. But, overall, it's fairly quiet.

But we are expecting it to come in right around 9:00 to 10:00. It will start off light but it's going to be heavy at times. Snowfall rate, one to two inches.

My friend Karen Maginnis is nice and warm in the studio. She'll tell you more. But I got to tell you, Ted Rowlands comes in later tonight. He can get that lake effect with all those winds.

SAMBOLIN: Ooh, that's nasty. That's going to be -- you know, they've got about 200 trucks available.

DELGADO: Mean girl.

SAMBOLIN: So, they'll be good out there. Thank you, Jennifer. I appreciate it.

BERMAN: So, severe weather is also blamed for a major travel nightmare in Colorado. Blizzard conditions near some of Vail's popular ski resorts caused two massive pileups, including this 30-car wreck. You can barely see it, the conditions are so bad, shutting down several miles of Interstate 70. All parts of I-70 in Colorado are now open this morning.

We want to go straight to Karen Maginnis in a severe weather center in Atlanta now.

And, Karen, a whole lot of us are wondering where this storm is headed.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, we've been watching this for the last couple days. Our computer models saw it about five days out. And still, the track of this is going to be a little iffy.

But here's what we anticipate. As we heard from Jennifer, just kind a big swath from the western Great Lakes and into the Midwest. Portions of the Ohio River Valley. Then making its way towards mid-Atlantic. There you can see kind of staggering snowfall totals.

This is late in the season to be seeing snowfall totals, 10 to 14 inches. Chicago, you could see your heaviest snowfall of the season. Also in places like St. Louis, that's another area that could get walloped once again.

But once this system makes it way towards the mid-Atlantic, with this very heavy snowfall totals, all the way from Chicago, towards Washington, D.C., I think you'll be on the edge of that heavy amount. Then we're not exactly sure where this storm is going to make its way. Area of low pressure moves across the Ohio Valley, the backside is the portion where we'll see the gusty winds. You'll see very poor weather conditions in Chicago at O'Hare airport and Midway.

You will be definitively affected as we go into the afternoon. But after this point in time, the Northeast still kind of a big question mark.

John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Karen Maginnis, our thanks to you.

And you're talking about glass half-full, oh, it's good for Chicago. They need the snow.

SAMBOLIN: They needed the snow. They said it's a head scratcher because it's happening so late. They need this moisture. So, at the end of the day, it's actually good news. But Jennifer Delgado is going to tell us about that when we go back to her in Chicago.

All right. Five minutes past the hour.

Developing story this morning in Venezuela, where the health of President Hugo Chavez is taking a turn for the worse. A government spokesman says Chavez is fighting a severe new infection. He has trouble breathing and is in very delicate condition.

The 58-year-old leader has been undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments and his long running battle with cancer. He's been ruling Venezuela now for 14 years. If he dies, Chavez is on record saying Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro should succeed him. But the opposition is likely to contest Maduro's appointment and call for a special election. And in just a few hours, the U.N. Security Council will meet to consider new sanctions against North Korea. This is in response to Pyongyang's nuclear tests last month. The first since Kim Jong Un became the country's leader. The regime's previous test, this has drawn widespread international condemnation. This time, even China is onboard. The U.S. and Beijing have reportedly struck a deal on a resolution to punish North Korea for this test.

An American cardinal in Rome to help choose the next pope addresses the child sex abuse scandal head on. This is Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago. He said the next pontiff must commit to zero tolerance.

The cardinals are meeting again this morning. And we may learn today when the conclave will start. That's when they will elect the next pope.

A Dominican woman who said she had sex for money with New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez now says her story is false and that she never even met him.

According to court documents, 23-year-old Nexis de los Santos claims she was paid to make the whole story up, but "The Daily Caller" first broke the scandal and says the reports on this story are getting their escorts mixed up. "The Daily Caller" claims this woman is not one of the two prostitutes that "The Daily Caller" originally interviewed for their expose last fall.

SAMBOLIN: And after almost two years in hiding, Casey Anthony sighting. She emerged at a Tampa, Florida, courthouse for bankruptcy hearing. It's Anthony's first public appearance since she was acquitted of murdering her daughter Caylee.

Anthony filed for bankruptcy in January. She testified at the hearing. She has no job, no car, can't pay her rent and depends on the kindness of those she's living with, plus unsolicited donations and gift cards. Anthony claims to be $800,000 in debt.

BERMAN: The towel wars now. Almost eight years to the day since she got out of prison, Martha Stewart returns to court this morning defending her company a breech of contract suit. She is scheduled to testify in the civil case pitting JCPenney against rival Macy's over their relationship with Martha Stewart's Living Omnimedia. At issue, whether Macy's has the exclusive right to sell some of Stewart's branded products.

SAMBOLIN: A neighborhood on edge this morning. A new sinkhole just three miles from the one that killed 37-year-old Jeff Bush near Tampa opened up in a backyard. This was yesterday.

There was no structural damage to the homes, though a fence dividing two homes was damaged. You're taking a look at that there. The family who lives there told a local station they want to move.

BERMAN: So, air travelers are experiencing their first real impact in the forced spending cuts. Passengers entering the U.S. are already facing delays in the nation's largest airports because the Department of Homeland Security has initiated a hiring freeze and slash overtime. That means fewer checkpoint lanes and longer lines.

On Saturday morning at New York's JFK, Homeland Security says passengers on 70 flights waited two to three hours just to clear customs. Those forced spending cuts mean about $113 million need to be sliced from the national parks budgets.

Yellowstone National Park announcing they'll delay the opening of five entrances by up to two weeks because of the impact of cuts on its snow removal operations.

SAMBOLIN: Here's a novel idea, John. Get everyone in the same room and don't let them leave until a deal is done. That's Chris Christie's solution to the forced spending cuts. The New Jersey governor blasting the president for a lack of leadership and calling out Congress for doing nothing to stop the so-called sequester.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: If the federal government can't cut one cent out of a dollar and not bring the economy and the country to its knees, then the government is in awful shape to begin with. Unfortunately, the president has overplayed this in a major way. I think you see him starting to back down a little bit. Planes are not going to be falling out of the sky.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Christie says the worst thing about the forced spending cuts is nobody's talking about spending on entitlements like Medicare and Social Security.

BERMAN: You know, they tried the whole lock everyone in a room until they reach a deal thing in 2011. It did not work out so well. It turns out they didn't like being in the room together.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: Ten minutes after the hour right now.

The National Rifle Association is partnering with NASCAR to sponsor the upcoming Sprint Cup race at the Texas Motor Speedway. The NRA 500 will run in prime time on Saturday, April 13th. This is the first time the NRA sponsored a race in NASCAR's top series. They did a nationwide series race before.

NASCAR team owner Richard Childress is a member of the NRA's board of directors. Sprint Cup winners at a Texas Motor Speedway, they usually celebrate by firing off six guns filled with blanks in victory lane.

Here is Jimmie Johnson after winning last year's Texas 500.

SAMBOLIN: It is 10 minutes past the hour.

Just like the infamous bloody glove in the O.J. Simpson trial, lawyers for accused killer Jodi Arias' attorneys offering up a finger defense on the stand. More from the courtroom coming up.

BERMAN: And tagging a 2,000 pound animal with teeth. Cameras are rolling for a real life encounter with jaws. That is a big fish.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START.

In a few hours, Jodi Arias returns to the witness stand at her murder trial in Phoenix for her 15th day of testimony now. Arias faces the death penalty if convicted of murdering her boyfriend Travis Alexander. The defense says it was self-defense.

The trial has been filled with gruesome and graphic details about the murder and the couple's sex life. In court yesterday, it was more of the same.

So, we would like to warn you about some of the graphic content.

Here's Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a damaging week on cross-examination, the first order of business for Jodi Arias' defense team was knocking down any hint of premeditation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you go to Mr. Alexander's home on June 4th with the intent on killing him?

JODI ARIAS, MURDER DEFENDANT: No. I didn't.

KAYE: Another attempt to convince the jury she murdered Travis Alexander in self-defense even though she's changed her story three times.

Testimony quickly turned to Arias' broken finger on her left hand.

The prosecution has tried to prove she hurt her finger while stabbing her ex-boyfriend dozens of times and dragging his bloody body around the house.

To dispute that, Arias' defense lawyer offered a show-and-tell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that is the injury you incurred when you testified to having received when Mr. Alexander was kicking you in the ribs and he ended up kicking your hand, correct?

ARIAS: That's correct.

KAYE: Arias says Alexander broke her finger six months before the murder, the day after she caught him allegedly masturbating to a photo of a little boy. She claims he became increasingly violent after that.

(on camera): Even though the couple had broken up, Arias says she and Alexander continued to have sex, but she wasn't the only one Alexander was seeing.

Now, the state has painted her as jealous and obsessive. But here in court, Arias portrayed herself as unfazed by this other woman. She even asked Alexander about her.

ARIAS: I didn't want to be confrontational. I wanted to just throw it out there, let him know it's OK if you're dating someone. You can let me know. I'm going to be cool about that.

KAYE (voice-over): Again, the couple's sex life was on full display. The defense worked to convince the jury it was Alexander, not Arias, who was the more experienced sexually. Listen to this recording of the couple's phone sex played in court.

TRAVIS ALEXANDER, VICTIM: You cannot say I don't work that booty. We've had two or three-hour sessions many times.

KAYE: All along, the prosecutor has painted Arias as the one who unleashed Alexander's sexual appetite. The defense tried to counter that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So based on what you've told us in your testimony, before you met Travis in your sexual history, you would have had anal sex no more than four times, is that accurate?

ARIAS: That's accurate.

KAYE: And what to make of Arias' strange behavior at Alexander's memorial service? She left him a note shown in court telling him she loved him. Remember, this was less than two weeks after she slit his throat, nearly cutting his head off.

ARIAS: Well, I still have love for him, yes, and I was thinking now more in terms of eternity.

KAYE: Arias told the court she still had deep love for Alexander on June 4th, 2008, the day she killed him.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Phoenix, Arizona.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: It is now 17 minutes after the hour.

I want to bring you up to speed on the top stories. Christine Romans is here with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to both of you.

You know, happening now, another winter storm smacks the Midwest. Significant snowfall is making travel pretty awful around Minneapolis and other major Midwestern cities this morning.

Chicago -- good morning, Chicago. Brace yourself. Up to 10 inches could cover the metro area today making delays at O'Hare and Midway airports very likely.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez fighting for his life this morning. A government spokesman says he is battling a severe new infection and is in a, quote, "very delicate condition." The 58-year-old Chavez has been undergoing chemotherapy for an undisclosed type of cancer.

A teacher in Indiana has been suspended from his job while authorities investigate what may have been threats written on his blackboard. There they are. The school superintendent confirms a teacher in Edison Junior/Senior High wrote: (a), you're idiots, (b), the guns are loaded, (c), care to try me?

The teacher who's worked at the school for 32 years has been placed on paid leave during an investigation.

Her schedule has been cleared. And this morning, Britain's Queen Elizabeth is back and resting at Buckingham Palace after being hospitalized for a night with a very nasty stomach virus. She was released yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: She looks good.

ROMANS: She does. It was her first time in the hospital in a decade. And the queen, of course, turns 87 next month.

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE).

ROMANS: There you go.

Follow that shark. Marine scientists working off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, successfully tagged a great white. The shark whom researchers called Lydia is 14 1/2 feet long, she weighs 2,000 pounds. OCEARCH captured, tagged and released Lydia Sunday near the mouth of the St. James River. You can follow her movements online using the group's global shark tracker.

SAMBOLIN: So cool.

BERMAN: This is a group that we talked about before. They've tagged other sharks. Mary Lee, I think, is the most famous shark they tagged. They're able to track them as they get closer to shore. They sometimes will beaches if they see these sharks getting so close.

SAMBOLIN: So now Lydia is out there and tagged. Very cool.

Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Coming to a beach near you.

SAMBOLIN: I hope not. God, I hope not.

Coming up, call it economic envy. Washington watches as China raises the bar in the race for world dominance.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Hey, good morning to you. Grab your cup of coffee, relax. Welcome back to EARLY START.

We're minding your business this morning.

We've been watching as the Dow is chasing that all time record high.

All right. Christine is looking at this at the very moment.

ROMANS: You know, all three of the major averages are set for a higher open I think you can say. So, we're still within, you know, record breaking spitting distance any day now. The Dow, 38 points from the all time closing high. It will take more than that to reach the intraday high. But very, very close here.

Big news this morning about China though. China is the world's second largest economy. But it's economic goals for the year are among the most ambitious of any major country.

China's annual parliamentary meeting Tuesday opened with a bold forecast. China expects growth this year 7.5 percent.

BERMAN: Wow.

ROMANS: Compare that in the U.S., maybe 2 percent to 3 percent in the first quarter if we're lucky.

China also will insure that incomes keep pace with that growth. The government says it's going to promise to do that. That means jobs, lots of jobs.

They expect to add more than 9 million jobs in urban areas. And they want to keep the unemployment rate at or below 4.6 percent.

China, of course, is an emerging economy. It is building lots of stuff -- bridges, tunnels, railroads, hospitals, office buildings. So this kind of growth won't last forever.

But the National Intelligence Council forecasts China will take over the U.S. as the world's number one economy by the year 2030.

It's always so interesting to hear the Chinese authorities lay out their economic goals for the year which means the country will meet those goals and they have very set out national strategy. That strategy will set them to overtake the U.S. in very due course here.

BERMAN: Seven-point-five percent growth.

SAMBOLIN: Incredible.

ROMANS: And that's a bit of slowdown from recent years, as a matter of fact.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: All right. Twenty-four minutes after the hour.

One the leader of the free world, our 41st George Bush now revealing kind of a different side of himself, as a concerned father. The new personal details this morning and just really emotional letters from the former president.

SAMBOLIN: And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop, even on your mobile phone. Just got to CNN.com/TV.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Here it comes, the snowstorm that is threatening to bury Chicago. That's a bit of an overstatement. But it's now barreling across the Midwest.

BERMAN: It's going to be 10 inches.

Wanted in New York, a manhunt under way right now for the driver who took the lives of a young family and then just ran away.

SAMBOLIN: And it has happened again, folks. A sinkhole opens up not far from the one that swallowed up that Florida man while he was alive.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Nice to have you with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is Tuesday, March 5th. It is 29 minutes past the hour right now.

And happening right now -- a late season blast battering the Midwest, dumping inches of ice and snow on major metropolitan areas, from the Dakotas to Indiana. Minneapolis got 3.9 inches overnight, to the East. Milwaukee can expect two to five inches. Indianapolis will get three to five inches today.

And right now, Chicago is bracing for up to four to eight inches expected by tonight.

Jennifer Delgado is there.

And, Jennifer, what are meteorologists saying right now? This could be the biggest snowfall of the season in Chicago.

DELGADO: Absolutely. You know, they're actually down for the season. They're at a deficit right around 8.5 for snowfall.

Now, right now, in Chicago, you're not seeing any snow out there. But as we go through mid-morning, as well as late morning, we're going to start to see that snow kicking in. It's still about 50 miles to the west of Chicago, very close to DeKalb.